Tag Archives: Military Draft

Federal Conscription: Lincoln Insists the Draft Continue

August 7, 1863 – President Abraham Lincoln rejected New York Governor Horatio Seymour’s request to suspend the military draft in his state.

The Enrollment Act, passed in March, required all able-bodied men between the ages of 20 and 45 to register for a military draft. This law was deeply resented by people who opposed the war on various grounds (religious principles, refusal to fight to free slaves, refusal to fight to preserve the Union, supporting the Confederacy, etc.). In July, the drawing of draftee names sparked riots through the North, including the worst draft and race riot in American history in New York City.

New York Gov Horatio Seymour | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

As the violence simmered down in early August, Seymour, one of the most prominent critics of the Lincoln administration, wrote the president urging him to suspend the draft. He argued that conscription was unconstitutional (and thus required judicial review before enforcement), that the quota assigned to New York was “glaringly unjust,” and that drafting men would encourage more rioting. Seymour, who many Republicans accused of emboldening the rioters, provided more detailed objections to conscription in subsequent letters.

While he awaited Lincoln’s response, Seymour also exchanged correspondence with Major General John A. Dix, commanding the military department that encompassed New York, which included overseeing the draft’s enforcement. Seymour wrote Dix on the 1st:

“I have this day sent to the President of the United States a communication in relation to the draft in this State. I believe his answer will relieve you and me from the painful questions growing out of an armed enforcement of the conscription law in this patriotic State, which has contributed so largely and freely to the support of the national cause during the existing war.”

Dix responded:

“It is my duty, as commanding officer of the troops in the service of the United States in this department, if called on by the enrolling officers, to aid them in resisting forcible opposition to the execution of the law; and it is from an earnest desire to avoid the necessity of employing for the purpose any of my forces, which have been placed here to garrison the forts and protect the public property, that I wished to see the draft enforced by the military power of the State, in case of armed or organized resistance to it… I designed, if your cooperation could not be relied on, to ask the General Government for a force which should be adequate to insure the execution of the law and to meet any emergency growing out of it.”

Seymour wrote:

“As you state in your letter that it is your duty to enforce the act of Congress, and, as you apprehend its provisions may excite popular resistance, it is proposed you should know the position which will be held by the State authorities. Of course, under no circumstances, can they perform duties expressly confided to others, nor can they undertake to relieve others from their proper responsibilities. But there can be no violations of good order, or riotous proceedings, no disturbances of the public peace, which are not infractions of the laws of the State; and those laws will be enforced under all circumstances. I shall take care that all the executive officers of this State perform their duties vigorously and thoroughly, and, if need be, the military power will be called into requisition. As you are an officer of the General Government, and not of the State, it does not become me to make suggestions to you with regard to your action under a law of Congress. You will, of course, be governed by your instructions and your own views of duty.”

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Lincoln responded four days later. He wrote that if Seymour could prove his claim that New York’s draft quota was “glaringly unjust,” Lincoln would modify the allotment “so far as consistent, with practical convenience.” But he rejected Seymour’s request to suspend the draft until the courts ruled on its constitutionality: “I can not consent to suspend the draft in New-York, as you request because, among other reasons, time is too important.” Lincoln agreed to allow the Supreme Court to review the law in due time; “In fact, I should be willing to facilitate the obtaining of” such a judicial review. But for now:

“We are contending with an enemy who, as I understand, drives every able-bodied man he can reach into his ranks, very much as a butcher drives bullocks into a slaughter pen. No time is wasted, no argument is used. This produces an army which will soon turn upon our now victorious soldiers already in the field, if they shall not be sustained by recruits, as they should be.”

According to Lincoln, the Confederate Conscription Act:

“… produces an army with a rapidity not to be matched on our side, if we first waste time to re-experiment with the volunteer system, already deemed by congress, and palpably, in fact, so far exhausted, as to be inadequate; and then more time, to obtain a court decision, as to whether a law is constitutional, which requires a part of those not now in the service, to go to the aid of those who are already in it; and still more time, to determine with absolute certainty, that we get those, who are to go, in the precisely legal proportion, to those who are not to go.”

Lincoln concluded with a familiar appeal to solidarity in the fight against the Confederacy: “My purpose is to be, in my action, just and constitutional; and yet practical, in performing the important duty, with which I am charged, of maintaining the unity, and the free principles of our common country.”

On the 18th, the day before the draft was set to resume in New York, Dix notified Seymour, “I applied to the Secretary of War on the 14th inst. for a force adequate to the object. The call was promptly responded to, and I shall be ready to meet all opposition to the draft.”

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton had dispatched 42 Federal regiments and two batteries to enforce conscription in New York City, which unconstitutionally overrode Seymour’s authority over his state. But the draft would proceed, no matter what.

Lincoln offered a concession to New York by reducing its draft quota. But he also wrote an order forcing the New York militia into Federal service to help impose the draft if Seymour tried to stop it. About 20,000 troops patrolled Manhattan with three artillery batteries to ensure that no further violence broke out. Seymour did not try stopping the draft, and no unrest occurred.

Federal officials drew 292,441 names for the draft this month. Of these, 52,000 paid the $300 commutation fee to avoid service. The New York City Council appropriated money to pay commutation fees for many poor draftees. Those who could not afford to pay such a fee resented the commutation process, and the draft tended to net poor citizens and immigrants not necessarily loyal to the cause.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 19762-87; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 317; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9528-39; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 155-56; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 637; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 337, 341; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 394-95, 397-99; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 610; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q363

The New York Draft Riots

July 15, 1863 – Rioting over Federal conscription entered its third day, leaving New York City in the hands of a violent, angry mob.

The first enforced Federal military draft began in accordance with the Enrollment Act passed in March. In major northern cities, the names of men eligible for the draft were placed in wheels and randomly drawn until quotas were met. The notion of being forced into the military added to growing northern resentment of both the war and the Lincoln administration.

That resentment was especially strong in New York, one of the few northern states dominated by anti-administration politicians. Governor Horatio Seymour loudly denounced President Abraham Lincoln’s unconstitutional attacks on civil liberties, and New York City, the largest in the North, was led by an anti-administration mayor. Of the city’s major newspapers, the World and the Journal of Commerce were openly hostile to Lincoln, and the Herald was often critical as well. Only the Times and the Tribune tended to favor Lincoln’s handling of the war.

The governor and the mayor did nothing to allay fears among the city’s massive immigrant population that blacks freed by the Emancipation Proclamation could come north and take their jobs while they were being drafted to fight a war they did not support. Especially repulsive to potential draftees was the provision allowing men to hire substitutes or pay $300 to avoid military service.

For two days, Federal officials drew names in New York’s Ninth District Provost Marshal’s office at Third Avenue and 46th Street. Resentment built as those names appeared in city newspapers. Resentment boiled over on the third day, when a predominantly Irish mob attacked the draft office with stones, bricks, clubs, and bats. Officials were beaten, the lottery wheel was destroyed, and the building was burned. Police tried to stop the violence, but they were quickly overwhelmed.

Rioting in New York | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

A rampage through the city ensued, resulting in the burning of businesses, hotels, police stations, and the mayor’s home. Over 1,000 rifles were looted from the Second Avenue armory. Rioters burned the ground floor of the Tribune office; employees of the Times used three Gatling guns to keep the mob from destroying their building.

Protestors targeted wealthy-looking men, screaming, “Down with the rich!” and attacking anyone suspected of being “a $300 man.” The mob also attacked businesses where workers had been replaced by automation, such as grain-loading elevators and street sweepers.

Blacks were beaten, tortured, and killed, with rioters “chasing isolated Negroes as hounds would chase a fox.” Several blacks were hanged on lampposts, including a crippled coachman who was also burned as the mob chanted, “Hurrah for Jeff Davis!”The Colored Orphan Asylum was burned, but police saved most of the orphans. Businesses employing blacks were also burned. A heavy rain helped extinguish the fires, but the riot continued for two more days.

Lincoln received reports of the violence from Tribune managing editor Sydney H. Gay, and they added to the anxiety he already had from the Confederate army escaping to Virginia after the Battle of Gettysburg. Troops were pulled from the Army of the Potomac and directed to help restore order in New York, even though Seymour did not request Federal intervention.

The unrest increased on the 14th as rioters stopped streetcars, cut telegraph wires, and wrecked railroad tracks. They seized blacks from restaurants and other places of employment, including foreign blacks aboard a British ship at port. Some rioters attacked the New York Tribune offices again, shouting, “We’ll hang (managing editor) Horace Greeley to a sour apple tree!”

By the 15th, rioters controlled New York City. A witness stated that “three objects–the badge of a defender of the law, the uniform of the Union army, the skin of a helpless and outraged race–acted upon these madmen as water acts upon a rabid dog.”

The War Department hurried several regiments to help police, along with cadets from West Point and men from the forts in New York Harbor under Major General John E. Wool. All Federal naval vessels in the area were called to provide aid as well; Commander Hiram Paulding soon had a gunboat squadron in the harbor, ready to shell the city if necessary.

Workers joined the rioters in attacking the homes of prominent Republicans, as Seymour unsuccessfully tried to stop the violence. An announcement suspending the draft in New York and Brooklyn eased the riot somewhat, but it did not completely end until Federal troops arrived. Many rioters were killed at Gramercy Park as the Federals used artillery and bayonets to stop their advance.

Civilian resistance against authority ended soon after, and peace was finally restored by the 17th. City merchants quickly organized a relief effort for black victims of the rioting and their families. The Democrat-controlled New York City Council approved a measure authorizing the use of tax revenue to pay commutation fees for those who could not afford to buy their way out of the draft.

This was the worst draft and race riot in American history. An estimated 50,000 people participated in the lawlessness, with 105 killed and at least 2,000 injured. Property damage was assessed at $1.5 million, with 50 buildings destroyed. However, one scholar determined that the death toll was not nearly as high as the sensational newspaper accounts claimed (the New York Tribune claimed that 350 had died); most people had not “died anywhere but in the columns of partisan newspapers.”

Smaller riots occurred in Boston; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Rutland, Vermont; Wooster, Ohio; and Troy, New York. Lincoln rejected calls to create a commission to investigate the cause of the rioting because the findings would “have simply touched a match to a barrel of gunpowder… One rebellion at a time is about as much as we can conveniently handle.”

Some urged an indefinite draft suspension, while Democrats sought to have it declared unconstitutional. However, Lincoln insisted that the draft continue.

—–

References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 133-34; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 62; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 308-09; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9506; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 636; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 328-29, 333; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 536-37; Klein, Maury, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 225-26; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 89; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 384-87, 389; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 609-10; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 244; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q363

The Enrollment Act

March 3, 1863 – The most controversial bill that President Abraham Lincoln signed into law during this congressional session was “An Act for enrolling and calling out the National Forces, and for other purposes,” also known as the Enrollment or Federal Military Draft Act.

President Abraham Lincoln | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Lincoln administration was facing a serious manpower shortage in the coming months, as 38 two-year regiments raised in 1861 and 92 nine-month regiments raised in 1862 were scheduled to disband. A new measure was approved to offset this, under which:

“… all able-bodied male citizens of the United States, and persons of foreign birth who shall have declared on oath their intention to become citizens under and in pursuance of the laws thereof, between the ages of 20 and 45 years, except as hereinafter excepted, are hereby declared to constitute the national forces, and shall be liable to perform military duty in the service of the United States when called out by the President for that purpose.”

The law required men to enroll at draft boards within their congressional districts. Provost marshals, assigned by a Provost Marshal Bureau within the War Department, managed the boards. The number of enrollees represented a district’s quota, and each district had 50 days to fill their quotas with volunteers. Quota shortfalls would be filled by a military draft, under which a lottery system would select the draftees. To discourage men from waiting to be drafted, generous bounties were offered to those who volunteered.

All Republican senators and representatives voted in favor of this bill, while 88 percent of congressional Democrats voted against. Unlike the Confederate Conscription Act, this law offered no exemptions for religious sects, such as Quakers or Mennonites, or other conscientious objectors who objected to warfare on moral grounds.

The law’s most divisive provision allowed men to buy their way out of the draft by either paying a $300 commutation fee or hiring substitutes to serve in their place. This was meant to give war dissenters an option to avoid service, but the provision sparked outrage because most men could not afford such a high fee.

Congressman Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania called this law “a rich man’s bill, made for him who can raise his $300, and against him who cannot raise that sum.” Lincoln argued that the fee actually helped the poor because the market would drive the price much higher without the fee cap. He tried setting an example by hiring a substitute, but that did little to satisfy the detractors. The provision was later repealed.

The Enrollment Act shifted the draft process from the states to the national government, making it more enforceable. It also made the act more resented. The law had its intended effect of inducing more men to volunteer for service, but it also helped spread a new corrupt practice called “bounty jumping,” in which men joined the army to collect the bounty and then deserted, moving to another district to repeat the process.

Regarding the substitution clause, most men who could afford to hire substitutes could also afford to bribe doctors into attesting that mentally or physically defective substitutes were fit for service. Conversely, the law did sometimes help working men who could hire substitutes to avoid military service and continue providing for their families. Future President Grover Cleveland and the fathers of future presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt hired substitutes.

Many northerners opposed the notion of a military draft as a whole. Workers feared their jobs would be given to freed slaves while they served. Angry immigrants contended that they came to America because of the promises of the Homestead Act, not to serve in the military. And many argued that compulsory military service violated civil liberties. Only six percent of Federal military personnel was drafted over the course of the war, and two-thirds of these draftees hired substitutes.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8986; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 635; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 267; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 44-45, 97; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 325; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 591, 599-605, 608; Robertson, Jr., James I., Tenting Tonight: The Soldier’s Life (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 35-37; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 242; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q163

Davis Calls for Confederate Conscription

March 28, 1862 – President Jefferson Davis submitted a special message to the Confederate Congress urging members to approve conscription.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

In mid-March, Davis replaced interim Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin with George W. Randolph. With many one-year army enlistees about to end their service, Randolph persuaded Davis to support a national military draft. Congress had tried avoiding a draft by passing a law offering bounties and furloughs to volunteers, but General Robert E. Lee, Davis’s military advisor, called the measure “highly disastrous.” Lee voiced support for a new law “drafting them ‘for the war.’”

In his brief message, Davis asserted that “all persons of intermediate ages not legally exempt for good cause, should pay their debt of military service to the country, that the burdens should not fall exclusively on the most ardent and patriotic.”

States’ rights supporters objected to conscription, arguing that such government infringement on individual liberty is what had prompted secession in the first place. Senator Louis T. Wigfall of Texas called on these opponents to “cease this child’s play… The enemy are in some portions of almost every State of the Confederacy… Virginia is enveloped by them. We need a large army. How are you going to get it?… No man has any individual rights, which come into conflict with the welfare of the country.”

The conscription debate continued into April. Anticipating approval of a draft, Virginia Governor John Letcher allowed the state militia to be absorbed into the Confederate army. This began a system in the Confederate military in which militiamen were assigned to preexisting regiments; this allowed green soldiers to serve alongside (and learn from) more experienced men. The system differed from the Federal military, in which new regiments were created for new recruits, often keeping the green troops separated from the veterans.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (28 Mar 1862); McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 430; Spearman, Charles M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 613-14